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HTML For Dummies: Know Your Limitations

I hope y’all are enjoying the series of articles, “HTML For Dummies…” I’ve tried to keep to the basics. After all, this series is not meant to be a programmer’s guide to everything HTML. My intent is to provide some basic knowledge that any writer can apply. I’m writing this series because I strongly believe that anyone who submits articles to the many writing sites (e.g. Associated Content, Constant Content, Demand Studios, a blog) should have the right tool for the job. That tool is the hypertext mark-up language, HTML.

Every site is different. And therein lies the true power of formatting your articles with HTML. Each site may have its own funky editor, but 99% of them let you circumvent their editor and submit HTML. Imagine the convenience of submitting the same article to all the sites you write for without having to tweak each submission. Copy once. Paste many times. Done. But, as I said, each site is different so it’s important to keep a few things in mind.

Keep it Simple
There is much, much more to a true HTML document than just the basic formatting tricks I’ve been writing about. A full-blown HTML document is pretty daunting to the non-programmer. You can see for yourself by selecting “View › Source” from your browser’s menu.

It is vital to understand that your article will become a part of a larger HTML document. Once you fill out a site’s submission form, they are going to add all sorts of other HTML around yours to produce the final product. You can concentrate on your writing and a few simple formatting tags. They have to worry with all the details needed to flesh out the page to their standards. This takes a lot of pressure off you, but imposes some restrictions, too.

The best thing you can do is keep to the basics. If you don’t, you run the risk of interfering with the site’s added HTML. It’s not unusual for an unclosed tag in your article’s body to confuse a browser so that it can’t display your article correctly. I’ve seen cases where a simple greater-than sign (>) caused all the text following it to disappear completely.

Know the Site
It may take some trial and error to figure out the nuances of a particular site, but almost all are going to accept the simple bold, italics, underline, superscript, subscript, etc. tags. Most are not going accept the more difficult div, form, input, etc. tags.

If you plan to do anything above and beyond, you should test it first. If the site allows you to remove your submission, you can always post a test document. If the site does not allow you to remove content, you should contact their support before attempting something like a table or image inset.

Got Software?
Though I know everyone has their favorite writing software like MS Word or Google Docs, it makes a lot of sense to get a decent text editor. Text editors like TextPad and UltraEdit were written with programmers in mind, but they have some really nice features that make adding HTML to your article very simple.

First, they color code everything so you won’t get stuck with your tag open. Second, they come with sidebars that add tags with just a double-click. They even spell check. They don’t replace Word for things like grammar check, but they are worth a nominal investment if the destination for your writing is the web.

Next time, we’ll discuss some of the pesky things that are out of our control like cascading style sheets. Happy writing!


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